It may be hard to find time for leisure in college, yet two librarians are seeking to relieve this pressure through the Low Maintenance Book Club.
The balance of a heavy workload and co-curricular activities generally means fewer periods for relaxation. Still, Arianne Hartsell-Gundy—head of the Humanities section and librarian for literature and theater studies—and Brittany Wofford—librarian for the Nicholas School of the Environment—started the LMBC to provide a space for community members to read, socialize and snack without fear of grading.
“It’s kind of an opportunity for folks to have a low-stress environment where they can do some reading for the first time in a while,” Wofford said. “We wanted something where people felt like they could kind of drop in and out as they had time or do their reading in their lunch break or in between classes.”
The club’s readings are more brief selections, including short stories, essays, excerpts, poetry and plays. In keeping with the “low maintenance” theme, they meet two to three times a semester for about an hour.
“The kind of books that we read are typically things that you wouldn’t have heard of, even if you’re someone who reads a lot,” said Harshit Sahay, a Ph.D. student and member of the club since October 2017.
All community members are invited to attend meetings, from undergraduates to graduate students to faculty. The ensuing relationships formed are valuable to both members and facilitators.
“It’s nice to go in and see some familiar faces that I wouldn’t normally interact with on campus just because we’re from very different programs or studying different things,” Sahay said.
Allowing for anyone to attend also invites unique insight into readings and books, leading to engaging discussions.
“Different perspectives of reading come out in each meeting,” Sahay said. “It helps you understand what other people are looking for when they’re reading.”
Hartsell-Gundy and Wofford fondly remember a time when two postdoctoral students incorporated their specializations in linguistics into a discussion of “Story of Your Life,” a science-fiction novella on language and determinism by Ted Chiang.
“It was a great representation of the community and discussions we have,” Hartsell-Gundy said.
LMBC allows everyone’s voice to be heard, regardless of age or background. All are encouraged to listen and speak as they wish.
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“You have a bunch of older members who are really familiar with each other, but you don’t want to let their familiarity get in the way of the new people who want to join,” Sahay said. “I think [the facilitators] do a really good job of making sure that doesn’t happen.”
The concepts and perspectives introduced in each reading bring up topics new to many students, and that discovery marks another important objective for the facilitators.
“We did poetry by [Claudia] Rankine once. A lot of it has to do with microaggressions. I think it was a really interesting conversation because a lot of people were grappling with that concept,” Hartsell-Gundy said.
Other memorable meetings featured discussions of pieces by Neil Gaiman and Roxanne Gay. Some of the story selections are chosen thematically, such as when the club read work by Shirley Jackson, a horror writer, for Halloween, or “Fleabag,” a play which later inspired the hit television series.
“Sometimes it’s kind of based on seasonal things, and sometimes it’s based on pop culture things like ‘Fleabag’ because we know people were so excited about the show,” Hartsell-Gundy said.
Anyone can give a recommendation for a reading, especially if it’s an area they want to gain exposure to for the first time.
Besides thoughtful discourse, snacks are also an important part of every LMBC meeting.
Hartsell-Gundy shared an example: when they read Shirley Jackson, she and Wofford brought in a cake made out of cupcakes that looked like a haunted house.
Tea and cookies accompanied a Sherlock Holmes piece as well, and Sahay fondly remembers Halloween-themed snacks at one of his first meetings. Pizza and charcuterie boards have also made appearances at various meetings.
Overall, LMBC is meant to be a stress-free reading experience that allows for community bonding and insightful discussions.
“People mention in the club feeling guilty because they haven’t read for awhile or are kind of dreading reading in a way because of a really intense school experience,” Wofford said. “I want people to feel like no matter what level you’re on, reading is a good thing and you should be happy to do it however you can.”